Chinatown organizer and activist Rose Pak is much to thank for the Central Subway project, a $1.5 billion, 1.7-mile undertaking to connect Chinatown to Market Street that was pitched in part as compensation for the removal of the 1989 earthquake-damaged Embarcadero Freeway, which was a conduit to her sometimes isolated neighborhood. But to build the Central Subway, Stockton Street has been closed to cars, damaging Union Square surrounding businesses. To make up for that fact, for the last two years the city has paused construction annually and created a pedestrian space between Market and Union square covered in astroturf called the Stockton Street Winter Walk.
“It was an extreme success,” Karin Flood, head of the Union Square Business Improvement District, tells the Chronicle. “The businesses loved it. The visitors loved it.” Could the Walk become permanent, SFist wondered during the Winter Walk's first season in 2014. Wouldn't you know it, others agreed: Union Square merchants have since banded together to support a year-round pedestrian mall, either closed to all traffic or permitting buses only, for when the subway is finished in 2019.
Just one problem: Rose Pak is a major obstacle to the plan, having written to SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin to criticize the idea in a letter obtained by Examiner at the end of last month. On behalf of the SF Chinese Chamber of Commerce, she claimed that a permanent pedestrian mall would “make permanent all the problems we’ve experienced,” which would be “unacceptable to our community.” As she told the Examiner with finality, "I consider the issue closed."
“We have about 300 family associations, district associations, temples, churches,” Pak told CBS 5 with regard to the pedestrian mall. “Everybody is here. 100 percent of our businesses rely on delivery trucks. Look at Chinatown any hour. You can’t move.” Speaking of which, Pak will negotiate with a similar force. “Wait until I have my blockade of the MTA for a week and see how they like it,” she said. “We’ll have thousands of trucks and cars blockading the whole City Hall and MTA area for one week and see how they like it when no one can get in and out.” To clarify, "that’s a promise, not a threat," Pak added.
Pak, who spent six months rehabilitating from a kidney issue in China before returning to San Francisco, has already been flexing her political muscle upon her return, protesting an effort to recall Ed Lee and perhaps working to help elect Cindy Wu to Jane Kim's Supervisor post, provided Kim wins her senate race against Supervisor Scott Weiner.
Chuck Nevius of the Chronicle provides some support to Pak's opposition, quoting a local business owner, Jon Handlery of Handlery Hotels. "How is a guest going to get to the hotel if they can’t drive?," said Handlery. "How are you getting out of Union Square? Traffic is a joke.” While the MTA says it “studied the Union Square traffic patterns and determined that the Stockton Street closure has not had a significant impact on traffic congestion,” Nevius casts aspersions on that, arguing that since traffic has been disrupted by the Central Subway construction since 2013, it's difficult to know for sure. “They said they did a study and you can go from Union Square to the Bay Bridge in 10 minutes," Nevius quotes Handlery. "I said, ‘What time? 3 a.m.?’”
However, “A lot of the merchants, a lot of the pedestrian activists and bike advocates are all saying this is something that would work,” the MTA's Paul rose countered to CBS 5. Streetsblog appears to agree, pushing an effort to mobilize with a petition to move the pedestrian mall project along.
And, to touch on bicyclists, one prominent pro-bike voice, the parody account Bob Gunderson, has been "critical" of the Winter Walk, which is to say he's clevelry promoted it. Gunderson's blog, Dearest District 5, lampoons the likes of Rob Anderson, an actual opponent of bikes, by insisting that the Winter Walk has been a "carless nightmare." In fact, "The Pedestrian Plaza was supposed to be all fun and games and a "relief from cars," but it's done nothing but tear apart families, ruin children's dreams, and tank the Disney, Apple and Ferrari stores," writes Gunderson. How long, surely he wonders, can this be permitted to endure?